79 pages 2 hours read

Charles Dickens

Bleak House

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1853

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Socio-Historical Context: The Court of Chancery

The legal system in England and Wales is typically based on common law. In common law, judgments and outcomes create a series of precedents that form the foundations of the legal system. Given the centuries of history in this legal system, common law is a complex web of precedents and prior outcomes. Unlike other systems, the legal system is not the sole creation of legislators and politicians. The traditional system of common law was established by a series of courts and judges—all with the reigning monarch’s approval—who would travel around the country and set precedents. In this respect, common law was flexible, as it could incorporate local customs and idiosyncrasies when passing down judgments. However, these idiosyncrasies also made it difficult to establish a fair and consistent ruling across the land. The complex and unique nature of the common law system and the burden of fairness demanded by the population created a situation in which legal rulings could take a long time. Furthermore, the judges and those in charge of the courts had a reputation for corruption and for favoring the wealthy elite, either through bribes or social influence.

The history of common law is an important issue in Bleak House due to the legal case that is at the center of the novel’s plot.